What Went Wrong with “Blade Runner 2049”?

If you read the reviews of “Blade Runner 2049,” it should have been a great movie. The huge problem with this movie is that while it’s visually engaging, it’s emotionally empty. The basic structure of any tory is that we must know what the hero wants from an emotional level. In “Star Wars,” Luke feels trapped on his uncle’s farm and longs for an adventure. In “Up,” the old man loses his wife and acts grumpy about life. In “The Karate Kid,” a kid gets uprooted and placed in a strange neighborhood so he feels alone and isolated.

In good movies, we understand how the hero is and what he or she wants right away. More importantly, we understand emotionally what they want because we can feel that same emotion. That’s why good romantic comedies work so well because everyone wants to find true love. That’s also why action movies can work if they rely less on action and more on emotion. In “Die Hard,” the hero wants to get back with his wife, so he’s willing to admit he’s the reason they broke up in the first place. In all those poor “Die Hard” sequels, there’s mostly action and little emotion, which makes them less engaging.

In “Blade Runner 2049,” who know who the hero is (a blade runner in charge of hunting down rogue androids), but we don’t know what he wants. Every story has two goals for the hero:

  • A physical goal
  • An emotional goal

The hero in “Blade Runner 2049” has a physical goal of finding out the original of a mysterious body buried near a dead tree. However, the hero has no emotional goal. What does he want? Because we don’t know, the ending fails to satisfy us emotionally because there is no emotion. The whole movie is mostly interesting because of its visual sets, not because of the story.

Here’s another flaw. At one point, the hero goes to San Diego where some people knock his flying car down and attack him. Who are these people? We don’t know. They just pop up long enough to cause trouble and disappear just as quickly. At another point, the villain captures the character played by Harrison Ford while leaving the hero behind. Why did they let the hero go? Just as suddenly, supporters of the androids rescue the hero right after the villain beats him up and leaves him. Where did these android supporters come from and how did they know where he was? (The hero was supposed to be in a deserted Las Vegas where nobody lives.)

“Blade Runner 2049” lacks an emotional depth and substitutes a coherent story with the hero jumping from one place to another. Instead of telling us a story, the movie seems more intent on showing us yet another setting of the future without telling us why this setting is important to the story.

“Blade Runner 2049″ is a visually interesting movie that lacks a coherent and engaging story. As a result, it’s no surprise that audiences stayed away from it. Partially it’s due to its length (almost three hours) and partially it’s because it ultimately has no story to tell. It’s a muddled, confused mess that emphasizes visual settings over story, and as a result, it fails as a movie despite its wonderful visuals.

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10 thoughts on “What Went Wrong with “Blade Runner 2049”?

  1. Aditya Sam Abraham says:

    I disagree with your analysis of Blade Runner 2049 completely save for one point. Yes, the emotional goal of the hero is to be human or to feel human. This isn’t made obvious. We have to figure it out. I disagree that the story lacks coherence. It’s extremely coherent and well paced. In fact I think your observation that it is incoherent is ludicrous to put it mildly.

    For me the flaw was that the villain (Jared Leto) is no longer mentioned after the scene with Harrison Ford. And the ending like all Denis Vilenue films is kinda “huh?”

    But apart from that I think Blade Runner 2049 is gripping and extremely well written and made. It is emotional at least for me if you can make the effort to engage.

    1. wallyadmin says:

      I think the key to every film is that there are no bad ideas, just poor execution. “Blade Runner 2049” seemed to focus too much on immersing you into its futuristic world at the expense of everything else. If you’re familiar with Phillip K. Dick’s work (the author of the novel that inspired “Blade Runner” along with inspiring “Total Recall”), his basic themes in his stories is that we don’t know what’s real, even to the point of not knowing if we’re real or what we believe to be true about ourselves is even real. That’s why in the original “Blade Runner,” the ending leaves the audience in doubt as to whether Harrison Ford’s character was really an android or not.

      In “Blade Runner 2049,” there are constant reminders that what we see may not be real from the hero’s hologram girlfriend to the idea of androids reproducing like humans. However, there is a useless comment where the hero asks Harrison Ford if his dog is real and Harrison Ford responds, “Why don’t you ask him?”

      From a thematic point of view, this is perfect. From a story point of view, this makes no sense since the dog plays no role in the story and whether it’s real or not also has no effect on the story. This is an example of wasted dialog that serves no purpose other than to enhance the basic idea of what is real and what isn’t. However, since it doesn’t support the story in any way, it simply gets in the way and slows the story down.

      Another example of slowing the story down is when the hero visits San Diego and gets attacked by people who take down his flying car. We never know who these people are, what they want, or why they attack him. After they show up, they’re never used again for the rest of the story so the entire scene wastes time and further muddles the story. After the San Diego people attack the hero, he’s suddenly saved by some sort of artillery firing controlled by someone else who’s watching the hero. This didn’t seem to be explained as to how this person had this power or why she’s bombing the area or why she’s even watching him and how she’s able to watch him. Perhaps I missed all of this explanation somehow but it didn’t seem clear so it further muddles the story, slows it down, and fractures its focus.

      Ridley Scott even mentioned in an interview that he thought “Blade Runner 2049” was too long. It seemed more like an intellectual movie than an emotional one. By the end, you’re simply left with a vague ending rather than an emotional experience of any kind. The ending doesn’t provide any sort of emotional revelation or surprise. It’s just there and doesn’t take advantage of its theme which is that we have to question what’s real and what’s really human.

      Overall, “Blade Runner 2049” could have been a great movie. Instead it’s a flawed movie that didn’t quite hit its target, which is why people can have such diverse opinions of it. That could be because people aren’t ready for it (like the original “Blade Runner” or past “failures” like “The Wizard of Oz” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” where people didn’t like it at first), or it could be simply the mark of a movie that didn’t quite succeed after all.

      1. Aditya Sam Abraham says:


        I respect your opinions and I understand that they are valid to you. Yes, I am familiar with Philip K. Dick’s work but I think the Bladerunner movies (at least for me) just take his concepts and do something totally what the filmmakers want to do.

        I don’t think the theme of the movie as you said is questioning what’s real. I think the theme of the movie is what it means to be human or what it means to have a life or be alive. I am sure there is a better ariticulation but I am sure you get my point.

        I take exceptions to your criticism that the people shot him down slowed the movie. In “Star Wars” the Jawas attack Luke. Doesn’t that slow down the movie? I know. I know. It’s not a proper analogy but I hope you get my point. The lady can of course see him because he has a personal drone protecting his car. And she’s his boss. And she can monitor him.

        The ending does make sense because as explained in the movie the most human thing is to die for a noble cause. Which is what the new Bladerunner does.

        My problem is as I explained earlier — the villain disappears after the boat battle.

        To be frank I am not a fan of the original Bladerunner. And I am not a fine of Villenue either. But this time I think he has created a masterpiece. Now it’s not perfect. No movie is. But I can’t agree with the insinuation that audiences stayed away because it was not emotional. In that case audiences should have stayed away from Dunkirk as well. But they didn’t. So your argument there is disproved.

        So while I concede that all film is subjective and we may have differing opinions what I cannot agree with is that you think audiences stayed away because it wasn’t emotional enough. There could have been many reasons audiences stayed away. Personally I think it’s Villenue’s dogged insistence in using a “measured” pacing in all his movies that alienates most viewers. Even Sicario and Prisoners haven’t done that well at the b.o. Anyway that’s what I think.

        1. wallyadmin says:

          Philip K. Dick’s idea of what’s human and what’s not falls under the idea of what’s real and what’s not, just specifically geared towards humans while “Total Recall” focused more on trusting your memories and not knowing if your past was real or not.

          The basic idea behind story telling is that if you introduce something, you must foreshadow it ahead of time. In “Star Wars,” I remember several people warned Luke to stay out of the desert so when he goes there and gets attacked by the Jawas, that makes sense. I honestly can’t recall if anyone warned the hero about going to San Diego in “Blade Runner 2049.” If so, I missed it. If not, then that represents poor story telling. Also was it foreshadowed that the woman was watching the hero and had the power to send artillery shells to blast away the people remotely? I don’t recall that was foreshadowed at all. As a result, it seemed to come out of nowhere, which is the definition of “deus ex machina” where something happens just for the convenience of the plot.

          Another thing I don’t recall is why was the hero in “Blade Runner 2049” going to San Diego in the first place? What was his purpose to meeting the woman who had to stay trapped behind glass to avoid diseases, and how did the hero figure out this woman was the child of the android? So much of “Blade Runner 2049” did not seem clear to me so maybe I missed the clues. If the clues weren’t set up clearly ahead of time, then that represents poor story telling.

          I found “Dunkirk” interesting but emotionally empty. I think it did well in the theater because it was based on a historical event and looked appealing. After seeing it, it seemed more like a documentary than a movie with a story. So I think people saw “Dunkirk” because it was shorter and based on a historical event and many people did not see “Blade Runner 2049” because they may not have been familiar with the original movie and they didn’t want to sit through a long movie unless they knew about it ahead of time.

          1. Aditya Sam Abraham says:


            I understand that Philip K. Dick may be interested in the theme of what’s really real. I just don’t think the Bladerunner movies are about the same theme. The movies are essentially about existentialism.

            The Bladrunner was going to the orphanage to investigate the records of the a boy and girl with similar DNA. It’s set up properly. Please watch it again. His purpose in meeting the woman behind trapped glass was to investigate whether his memories of the horse were real memories or created memories. Again this was foreshadowed. The bladrunner figures out this woman is Harrison Ford’s daughter because once the rebels tell him that Deckard had a daughter he understands that his memories have been planted by the memory creator (the woman behind the glass) which means she was the miracle girl child. Deductive reasoning. The clues were setup early.

            About Star Wars — foreshadowing works if it’s essential to the plot. Your argument was that we could cut out the artillery blast scene and it would speed up the story. By that same logic, even the Jawa scenes could be cut out. It wouldn’t affect the overall plot. Have him meet Obi-Wan some other way. Except that it would be at the cost of drama. So just like the Jawas there are scavengers in the Bladerunner’s world. It’s actually set up. When people have left Earth to live off-world. So it’s reasonable to expect the existence of Scavengers.

            Bladerunner 2049 is anything but poor storytelling. The diametric opposite actually.

            Dunkirk did well in India too. And in most countries around the world. Any other country other than Britain and my be the U.S. isn’t going to be taken in by the historical angle. Dunkirk did well because it’s a masterwork of cinematic and structural technique. And it’s paced extremely well. Something Villenue should learn if I may be so arrogant.

            See I think both Nolan and Villenue are master filmmakers.

            I agree that 2049 may not be for everyone. But I loved it.

          2. wallyadmin says:

            I’m glad that you enjoyed “Bladerunner 2049” because so many critics did too. That’s why it was a disappointment to me because I thought I would enjoy it more.

            Just to be clear, I did not say that the artillery blast in “Bladerunner 2049” should have been cut out. I just don’t remember that it was foreshadowed ahead of time that the woman had the power to both watch the hero remotely and fire artillery/missile strikes. If it was foreshadowed, I missed it. If it wasn’t, then it represents poor story telling.

            In “Star Wars,” it was foreshadowed that the desert was dangerous so don’t go there, so when the Jawas attack Luke, it makes sense that that was the danger. In “Bladerunner 2049”, I don’t recall if it was foreshadowed that going to San Diego was dangerous. Therefore if it wasn’t, when the people attack him, it comes out of nowhere, which is the definition of “dues ex machina,” which represents poor story telling. Likewise if it wasn’t foreshadowed that the woman had the power to remotely fire artillery/missile strikes, then that’s also poor story telling.

            I am surprised that “Dunkirk” didn’t do well in England but that might be because it’s hard to sell a movie based on the most successful retreat in history. Not exactly inspiring stuff. I thought “Dunkirk” was visually interesting but from an emotional point of view, mostly empty because I never felt emotionally attached to any of the characters.

            I remember seeing “Mary Poppins” in the theater when it first came out and when I watched it again decades later, I remembered almost every scene. Yet I saw “Bladerunner 2049” a few weeks ago and can’t remember large chunks of the story at all. That happened when I saw “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” in the theaters and loved it, yet years later when I saw it again, I could not remember most of the story or even the ending. I honestly thought I was watching a director’s cut that included deleted scenes but it was actually the original movie.

            I watched “Suicide Squad” twice to figure out if I missed out on something the first time. After seeing it a second time, I realized the movie was so poorly structured that it just amazed me that they even tried passing it off as a movie. I seriously doubt I’ll ever watch “Bladerunner 2049” ever again since it seemed so slow and dull. I’d much rather watch a new movie or something I enjoyed the first time around.

  2. Aditya Sam Abraham says:

    Suicide Squad was horrible. I couldn’t believe it got made. I like “Roger Rabbit”. Not my favourite thought. Just curious. Do you like Villenue’s other films? I loved Enemy, Prisoners and 2049. Did not like Sicario and Arrival all that much. But Sicario I had to watch with poor sound. So that could be it.

    For me I like films where the momentum takes me along. Personally, I don’t need to care about characters. I like Die Hard 2 and 3. Granted, they are not as good as the first one. Not even close. They miss the point about what makes the first one great.

    But all in all — opinions and how we enjoy movies are all subjective. Anyway, wish you well.

    1. wallyadmin says:

      I saw Sicario and Arrival. Interesting but not great. In hindsight, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” was less interesting than I thought initially. Not bad but not great. More of a gimmick with all the cartoon characters.

      1. Aditya Sam Abraham says:

        I agree.

        I am curious though. What do you think of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi?

        I loved The Force Awakens but yes there are problems with character arcs in the movie.

        I hated The Last Jedi. I think it violates everything about stories. I thought Rey is the hero. Kylo Ren is the villain. A decent movie is when the hero and villain fight in the end. Instead, Luke shows up to battle the villain. Rey is like a side character that facilitates an escape. I thought it had a great opening but it went downhill from there.

        1. wallyadmin says:

          Generally I find all the Star Wars sequels/prequels relatively boring. All action and not much else. My criteria for any sequel is whether it can stand on its own as a complete movie and most sequels fail miserably by relying far too much on knowledge of past movies to succeed. For example, if “The Last Jedi” came out without any other Star Wars movies existing, would people like it as much? Most likely not because none of the characters would really make sense. You’re right about “The Last Jedi” not having the hero and villain fight in the end. That does violate a major structure of stories. I was just too bored by that point to even notice that.

          Watch “Paddington” and “Paddington 2” to see how a great movie works and how a sequel can work without heavy over-reliance on knowledge of the previous movie. “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2” also work well as both separate and sequels along with “Alien” and “Aliens,” but most sequels are generally too diluted and weak to stand on their own as complete stories.

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